Wis 2. 12, 17-20; Ps 54; Jms 3. 16-4.3; Mk 9. 30-37
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We seek to grow in our Christian lives of faith and action. That is each one’s vocation. The church in the United States recognizes our common vocation on Catechetical Sunday, the third one each September. “Catechesis and the Proclamation of the Word” is the name of this year’s focus. I want to highlight our hearing and receiving the Word, the second half of its proclamation. As St. Paul noted, Faith comes through hearing, that is, receiving the word.
St. James has been sounding these past weeks that the word received leads to action, summarized today as full of mercy and good fruits. Receiving the word—the word of the gospel, the promptings of Jesus’ Spirit or another human’s word—receiving the word demands more than the mechanics of hearing. Receiving the word—particularly the word of the gospel and the promptings of Jesus’ Spirit—involves welcoming it, yielding to it, giving it center-stage rather than me and my needs.
In gospel language giving the word and the promptings of Jesus’ Spirit center-stage for a dedicated amount of time rather than me and my needs involves humility and service. “Whoever wishes to be first shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” These words of Jesus were his teaching on the mystery of the cross. We know that; yet I think we fear learning what that may mean for us. Our fear is not my idea but inspired by the gospel. Consider the scene.
Jesus one more time was teaching and telling his disciples about the cross as his destiny. Notice their reaction after Jesus had told them one more time: they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. Did their fear rise because they did not understand? It could have. I know I’m at least anxious when I don’t understand. Did the disciples fear because they realized some implications of the mysterious thing Jesus had said? That could also have been the case. Surely they did not understand how Jesus once dead could be alive: three days after his death the Son of Man will rise. Even we who believe it do not understand it! Hearing Jesus would rise, I can appreciate the disciples feeling if things would be more than right again with their Messiah, they’d think about their future and how great they’d be, which is what they did behind Jesus’ back: They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.
Jesus taught his disciples that the cross is about humble service and being host or hostess to God. Welcoming the visible Jesus welcomes the invisible sender of Jesus: “Whoever receives one child...in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Jesus chose a child because children are open and take in everything. As we mature we run the risk of being less open and willing, and we often justify our narrowness saying, “I’m being selective.” From being selective we easily rule out the demanding aspects of the gospel, in particular the mystery of the cross. To welcome Jesus is to welcome the cross, and we shun the cross because of how people will think of us or how people will treat us.
Jesus recommends how to treat one another as we welcome the mystery of the cross in our lives. Jesus didn’t censure his disciples for not understand or for arguing. He patiently, gently showed them the meaning of the cross: humble service of and respect for others. The cross no longer is an event in the past, it is a mystery imparting divine power to us as we welcome the cross and its true meaning into our lives.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, bask in the Trinity’s love for you. Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus as you are. Speak to Jesus: in your words tell Jesus the many ways you welcome him in others; also tell Jesus what holds you back from welcoming him. Trace the sign of cross on yourself as you tell Jesus. Tracing the cross on ourselves is prayer. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us to help us to live the mystery of his cross which challenges us to give forgiveness as much as we ask for it.
Wiki-image of stained glass window is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.